EWMBA students Michael Fitch, Wei Kwan, and Nachiket Torwekar spent their Summer IBD project working with Reach for Change in Accra, Ghana.
A Day in the Life of the Ghana IBD Team
Our group of three was assigned to consult for Reach for Change, a Swedish based social impact incubator that primarily focuses on improving the lives of children and young adults. They were founded as the non-profit arm of the Swedish investment company Kinnevik group. Reach for Change currently operates in 16 nations worldwide, with a six locations in Africa. We were assigned to work for the program office in Accra, Ghana which also housed the management team for the entire African continent.
The Reach for Change office had just recently moved from the Osu area of Accra to the North Industrial Area, known for recycling plans and factories for large corporations. The office is housed in a newly remodeled building that is still partially vacant but had the great benefit of having a full restaurant as one of their tenants, which is where we had a majority of our meals. The Reach for Change team had arranged accommodations for us at a local hotel, The Swan Hotel, which was located about 10-15 minutes away from the office by foot. It was really nice to be able to walk to the office on a daily basis.
7:45 Gather at the Hotel Lobby
We started the day with some friendly competition to keep ourselves honest. We then took a short walk to the office which was around six blocks away. The mini market workers knew Mike’s name by day three and called out to him every time we walked by. We passed the Qodesh on our way – the largest branch of Lighthouse International in Accra. Since the addressing system in Ghana is unusable, street names have no meaning since no one uses them, the Qodesh was the landmark we used to help our taxi drivers navigate back to our hotel or to the office.
8:00 Walk to the Office
The office is in the same building as a local eatery, that serves “continental” cuisine which meant they served a mix of Italian, Ghanaian, and Lebanese food. We ate many of our meals including all of our breakfasts here. The omelet and coffee collection is very good and makes for a great breakfast. We were regulars by our third day and the staff remembered what our standard order was. We were usually the first customers there and the music started playing only when we walked in. Given that there were not many food choices nearby other than sidewalk stalls with street food, this was a lifesaver for us on more than one occasion.
9:00 Arrive in the R4C Office
The Reach for Change office was relatively modern with most necessities available including the very crucial AC system. We were offered a conference room on the second floor where we worked, brainstormed and presented our findings. The staff stopped by once in a while and chatted with us, gave us information and constant feedback as we progressed on our project. One added benefit was that there was a mango lady in the area that came by everyday to the door and sold delicious mangoes for around four cedi.
10:00 Taxi Negotiations
Around 10, it was the time for the first meeting of the day. The taxis are the main modes of travel within the city. They were freely available but required bargaining since the fares are not regulated by the government and each driver sets his own market rate. We got pretty good at bargaining by the second day but someone from the Reach for Change staff occasionally helped us out and got us a better deal since foreign rates are still higher than the rate for locals.
11:00 Meeting a change leader
A Change Leader is a social entrepreneur that is funded by Reach for Change that is devoted to a social cause that directly impacts the lives of children and young adults. We met change leaders in various environments – rural areas, garages, modern office spaces and even in a warehouse in the busiest market in the city. Visiting Change Leaders on-site actually gave us a better picture of the fundamental issues they were dealing with. We typically interviewed the Change Leaders for an hour and also got their feedback on the financial tool-kits that we had prototyped.
2:00 Partner meeting
We tried to understand the ecosystem that Reach For Change operated in by meeting with all the players including: competitors, partners, other entrepreneurs and Change Leaders. The partner meetings with UNICEF and VIASAT1 (#1 local TV channel) were extremely helpful in helping us understand what the partners were looking for in the relationship. Most people we encountered seemed really interested to talk to us and gave candid responses.
4:00 Back to office and to the drawing boards
We usually got back to office prior to calling it a night for one last round of discussion the the day’s events and consolidated the findings from our interviews. We revisited our hypothesis and prepped for the next day’s sessions. The Reach for Change staff would stop by and ask about our day, very eager to hear what we found out. We then headed back to the hotel in anticipation of heading out for the night to blow some steam.
7:00 Night life @Republic
Most of our nights ended with chilling at local bars and cafes. The Republic was a favorite with its street side setting, signature drinks and appetizers. The Republic is the most popular venue for expats, foreigner and locals to gather in the evening. We encountered key people from one of the local Hubs on a regular basis at the Republic, which goes to show the power of networking over drinks and food in Ghana. Live bands and DJs are part of the regular entertainment line up and Friday and Saturday nights are the most lively. Interestingly enough we were joined by our clients on most of the nights out which enabled us to build a stronger working relationship with them.
The days flew by in a jiffy. We met a lot of inspiring people who were very forthcoming with information and treated us very well. We made many new connections and good friends. The three of us bonded a lot through the tough days and the laid back evenings. Most importantly, each day we spent there broadened our views and enriched our lives. We walked away with a profound sense of appreciation for what the organization aims to do amidst a shrinking pool of resources for the Change Leaders. The Change Leaders drive and sense of mission towards children was admirable. We were touched by all the stories we heard that inspired each Change Leader to be dedicated towards their cause. We leave Ghana with a sense of accomplishment knowing that our project has put Reach for Change a step closer towards their goal of helping Change Leaders create more impact in the lives of needy children.